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'Billy Elliot' Writer's Opera Sparks Gay Row

LeeHall An opera penned by Billy Elliot writer Lee Hall has sparked a scandal in merry old England.

The opera, scheduled to open next week, was meant to be put on by Opera North and a local school.

Unfortunately, the school, which had previously encouraged 300 students to act in the production, had a few objections, and requested Hall remove the word "pee-pee," a scene featuring homophobic bullying, and alter an adult gay character's rhyme: "Of course I’m queer/That’s why I left here/So if you infer/That I prefer/A lad to a lass/ And I’m working class/ I’d have to concur.”

Hall agreed to a few changes, but he quite rightly refused to remove what he describes as "the character's straightforward defence of his sexuality," leading the school to back out of the production.

Read more, AFTER THE JUMP...

Incensed by the cancellation, Hall, pictured here, pointed the finger at Opera North. "I thought there must be some mistake and that Opera North would support me by finding a way round this completely outdated hysteria," he wrote. "No one will countenance the idea that there could be homophobia at play.”

Hoping to distance themselves from the scandal, the opera company released a statement today insisting it had no part in the homophobic matter.

"We regret that some people associated with the project have decided to view the decision not to proceed with performances as being based on a homophobic fear on the part of Opera North," wrote general director Richard Mantle. "Opera North feels that the decision by Lee Hall to suggest that the production was cancelled due to a homophobic stance on the part of the company is unacceptable."

Lee vows to keep working on the opera, but for now has accomplished at least one of his piece's goals: "To challenge expectations and to invite discussion about issues that are more often swept under the carpet."

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  1. If the reason is not homophobia, than what is the reason? I hope Opera North loses funding because of this.

    Posted by: Abejabi | Jul 5, 2011 12:02:26 PM

  2. You should read the comments and thoughts of the famous (!?!) young, gay, opera composer Nico Muhly regarding this scandal. There is a lot more to it than the press reports.

    Posted by: paul | Jul 5, 2011 12:11:20 PM

  3. Maybe I'm a purist, but do we really need an opera with the lyrics of "pee pee" and "I'm queer, that's why I left here"? Maybe he should stick to Broadway.

    Posted by: ralph | Jul 5, 2011 1:25:49 PM

  4. Ralph: "do we really need"...

    That's what art's about.

    Posted by: Randy | Jul 5, 2011 1:57:57 PM

  5. @paul Ha. I had no idea Nico Muhly was a gay opera composer. I thought he did electronic music based on this track, which I love:

    Posted by: kirkyo | Jul 5, 2011 2:25:17 PM

  6. All opera really means is you sing the entire piece, and it's not just a bunch of scenes with spoken dialog to get you to the next song. There's a great number of mainstream musicals which are technically operas, but aren't thought of as such because they're not sung in French or Italian. And I hardly think most of the famous operas out there had lyrics that are all that stunning if we actually understood what the heck they were singing...

    Posted by: Ryan | Jul 5, 2011 8:18:50 PM

  7. "I had no idea Nico Muhly was a gay opera composer"

    He's undoubtedly gay, plus he's written an opera, whether he's a *good* opera composer is still open to debate. His opera has gotten very poor notices regarding the actual music, but as Paul hints by his link, there's far naughtier language in the Lucas/Muhly "Two Boys" than in the piece Lee Hall has been working on.

    "All opera really means is you sing the entire piece"

    No. "The Magic Flute", the original "Carmen", "Lulu" and a bunch of others have dialogue.

    "There's a great number of mainstream musicals which are technically operas, but aren't thought of as such because they're not sung in French or Italian"

    The language it's sung in it has nothing to do with it. Almost all musicals are pop songs strung together, using the typical conventions of pop song writing that have been around since Irving Berlin. Even those that are through-sung, like some of Sondheim's, are still rooted in verse/chorus/bridge pop songwriting.

    There's not an existing musical that has the harmonic, rhythmic and orchestrational complexity of "Tristan und Isolde" or "The Marriage of Figaro" or "Rigoletto" or any other opera I can name. Nothing wrong with that at all, musicals are a great art form and an American one at that (though derived in some ways from operettas).

    Posted by: Henry Holland | Jul 5, 2011 9:46:20 PM

  8. 300 children in a performance seems like a huge cast. Couldn't they have found volunteers to perform instead of involving a school? This seems to have been their major mistake. If the schools in England are anything like those in the US, anything that even slightly has to do with sexuality is banned.

    Posted by: ralph | Jul 6, 2011 8:45:51 AM

  9. Bridlington community opera to go ahead as planned

    Posted by: Opera North | Jul 7, 2011 10:44:51 AM

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